24 April 2019

Foundation Progress Tracker

One way to measure the progress of a large and complex construction program like the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Program is to count how many foundations have been completed. This is a revealing metric, since foundation construction is currently the top risk on the program due to surprises when digging holes along the right of way. It's also a metric that is readily measurable and reported monthly.

In round numbers, the electrification project encompasses ~3000 poles and ~3700 concrete foundations. The number of foundations is greater than the number of poles because there are foundations for guy wires and sometimes multiple foundations for portal poles.

The progress chart below will be updated monthly.

At the December 2018 meeting of the Caltrain board of directors, the program manager stated (starting at 01:03:00 in video) that he needed to maintain a pace of 156 pole foundations per month (six per night) to meet the schedule milestone of "electrification substantial completion," which was then set for June 2021. You can see how things went since then.


  1. What's the burn rate on OCS, and how does that match the latest reported cost?

    1. Burn rate on the entire project is lower than planned. See PDF page 12. Where they are right now spend-wise is where they were planned to be 16 months ago, so one way of squinting at the program status is that they are 16 months behind... and even more behind if they are over-spending on the tasks they are already doing.

      The latest monthly claims they're on schedule, but the OCS completion milestone has slipped by 3 months in the last 3 months (December 2018 report: 6/23/21, March 2019 report: 9/24/21)

      I'm thinking the likelihood of any electrified service in 2021 is roughly zero, 2022 getting iffy.

  2. What would be the way to prevent this problem - handing the project over to the contractor with less specific plans? eg: "Put a foundation somewhere in this 2m x 8m rectangle" or simpler still, just specify pole spacing requirements and let the contractor figure it out? One can imagine a construction team going out to actually dig a foundation without even knowing exactly where it will go ahead of time, or having an 'ideal spot' but being empowered to relocate on the fly within certain parameters if some unexpected utility turns out to be in the way. Not being in the construction industry I can't say for sure, but I bet this sort of thing was common for this kind of work "back in the day".

    The analogy I can relate to when I built a fence in my backyard, I knew I was shooting for 7'6" on-center post spacing but if I ran into a root while digging I would make it a little shorter or a little wider, up to 8'. I also didn't measure very exactly, because it's a fence, and who cares? I am not an expert, so maybe I am completely wrong, but building foundations to support poles for RR electrification seems like it has the potential to be pretty similar to this.

  3. The rate is low because the "team" doing "Segment 3" hasn't been mobilized or hasn't started yet.

    Better question is "why haven't they started yet".

    1. Pretty sure the answer is in the monthly... Segment 3 isn't scheduled to start for another few months.

    2. Segment 3 is probably the longest, but also seems to have the shortest time allocated to it. The graph above might be more accurate if broken down by segments, then for each segment, plot the completion/total as well as months.

      Even that assumes linear progress for each segment which might not be the case once teams get up to speed and complete a 100+ poles.

    3. The graph makes no assumptions other than the one stated: linear extrapolation from the officially reported foundation productivity of the last three months.

      Realistically, foundation production should follow a sigmoid profile, starting slowly with potholing, accelerating to a maximum rate, and then tapering off as the work wraps up and the hardest cases are dealt with. One would thus expect the extrapolated line to rapidly trend upwards, with the extrapolated completion date pulling well to the left of October 2021.

      Keep watching to see whether it does that, and when.

      It's likely that by now (with accumulated delays since December) the required production rate will have to hit 200 foundations/month in order to finish on time. That's FOUR times the current average.

  4. The LA Times has published a damning long article on the HSR project:


    How California’s troubled high-speed rail project was ‘captured’ by costly consultants

    ( Perhaps a sub title of "how not to build a project" should be added

    1. For once an objective article from Vartabedian.

    2. It seems like the contractors all knew to come in with low bids to ensure snagging a package. They all knew they could abuse the authority and find opportunities to sweeten the pot.

    3. A follow-on article that summarizes the realities that CAHSR is telling the Legislature:

      -- $20.4 billion complete cost of Bakersfield to Merced ($15 billion needed from now on).
      -- $63 million per year subsidy required to operate the Central Valley segment
      -- $4 billion from Feds is not coming
      -- getting rid of consultants will not be cheap. Example: CAHSR says it needs 10 more IT folks.
      -- a separate prediction that the Bay Area will never connect to the system.


    4. IIRC, the entire reason for the consultant-capture was that certain members of the Authority Board (I want to say they were Republicans or centrist Democrats) wanted to avoid having to fund pensions for Authority employees. The easiest way to avoid that was by using consultants instead of staffing up the agency properly.

  5. The required rate is now 200/month. Please adjust your graph.

    1. Please see above comment, 26 April 17:56. The graph shows an extrapolation of actual installation rates.

  6. Is LA Times disseminating false information again?

    "$63 million per year subsidy required to operate the Central Valley segment"

    The 63 million is based on the farebox-recovery ratio which includes high-speed rail, the Altamont Corridor Express and the San Joaquins services. Ie this is the subsidy for 3 systems.

    83 million without HSR.

    "$4 billion from Feds is not coming".

    CAHSR will not return the 2.5B in fed money.
    Also, it is against federal law to hold back the 1 billion...this will be in the courts for a long time. Dems may be in power before this is decided.

    "$20.4 billion complete cost of Bakersfield to Merced ($15 billion needed from now on)."

    Worst case scenario is recouping FY10 and C&T comes in on the low end. Which leaves 1 billion short.

    ARRA $2.49
    FY10 $0.93
    Prop 1A Planning $0.68
    Prop 1A $2.61
    Future Prop 1A $4.17
    Proposition 1A Bookends $1.10
    Cap-and-Trade Received December 2018 $2.42

    Subtotal $14.45

    Future Cap-and-Trade* $6.00 – 9.00

    Total $20.45 – 23.45

    1. oops, wrong spot. This was a reply to Reedman's post